Cookout!

Do you want to get into the cookout mood? Just start singing “Rollout” by Ludacris and substitute “Cookout” for Rollout. There, now you’re ready to hang out outside.

We finally have less rain. No more April showers which is good since it is almost June. We have more sunshine, it’s warmer which means cookout season has started! It’s warm enough. Yaaaaaay! The kids can play outside, hang out on the swing, play Easter by hiding and finding things (yes, they really do play that). And if all else fails you can always have ‘sprinting competitions.’ The perfect way to grab a few quiet moments.

Fennel and Zucchini, with Feta, Pinenuts and Lemon

Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad

Now, while cookout season is great, there are also health risks surrounding the eating of grilled meats – the whole carcinogenic thing is something to pay attention to. If you want to know more, just google ‘grilling health risks‘ or something like that and you’ll find reports on the findings about cancer. (Don’t run an image search – the Google images on cancer are pretty horrific).

There have been and currently are enough cancer cases among friends and family that it doesn’t hurt to prepare plenty of non-grilling options at a cookout. (Yeah, it’s been a rough time all around). For us, a cookout is a collaborative effort where every one brings something, and then it’s not such a workload on the hosts. My favorite contributions are salads that don’t need refrigeration – careful on the mayonnaise, side dishes that can be prepared ahead of time, and dessert options that are non-melting. Pretty much common sense.

I’ve come to be known as the salad queen in the family, so my standard contribution is some kind of crunchy-ish salad. One of my friends always contributes a basic lettuce salad with vinaigrette. So that’s taken care of, and I can play around with different takes on salad recipes.

This one is my current summer favorite: 101 cookbook’s Shaved Fennel salad. Yes, it’s a non-smitten kitchen recipe! It’s so good, I can’t believe that it didn’t make it into the cookbook. It’s really easy to make, you can assemble parts of it ahead of time, and it’s light and fresh. I used to be a bit iffy about using fennel in my cooking – I’m not a fan of liquorice so I only liked my fennel roasted, and the spice had to be toasted enough that it wouldn’t remind me of some kind of digestive tea. You know that little condiment that you get at the end of a meal in an Indian restaurant? That little bowl of fennel with little candied sugar pearls? Yeah, that taste. Btw, fennel ice cream post-dinner instead of that fennel mix? That sounds like a win-win situation.

But – I’ve found that I totally love fennel in my salad. If it’s sliced really thing, then you aren’t chewing on the fibers in the fennel. Plus the fennel gains a surprising delicacy. If you have mandolin, have fun slicing (it’s just way faster), but you can just as easily get lovely thin slices with a heavy Chef’s knife. Same with the zucchini – it has more moisture, so I don’t know who it’ll hold up on a mandolin, but I suspect just fine. I haven’t tried a box grater, but the fennel should work just fine, but the zucchini – I doubt it.

The recipe suggest letting the fennel-zucchini-lemon juice-olive oil-mixture marinate for 20 mins to an hour. Yes, I left the dill out on purpose – I just don’t like it very much. I let it marinate somewhere around 3-4 hours before assembling the salad, and I think the marinade could easily marinate longer. There was no more fridge space left, so the mixture marinated outside, but since there was no mayonaise it it I figured it would be ok. And it was. The arugula was already in the salad bowl, dried, and sitting in the shade. All I had to do was mix the arugula with the remainder of the mix, add the feta and the pine nuts. And voila, you have the perfect cookout contribution. The salad disappeared so quickly, some people didn’t manage to score seconds. Oh, and one friend ate the remaining dressing with a bit of focaccia – she pronounce it delicious. I really recommend you try this salad on your own – you’ll love it.

Featured post image from Stackmatic.

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Mother’s Day deliciousness

(Yes, these are petit fours. No, I didn’t make them. But they were so ridiculously cute, so Mom got them for breakfast. Ok, we split them. I think a petit four per person is plenty. I didn’t have time to make a big breakfast anyway since we went to an Indian dance performance on Sunday morning. I will make my own petit fours one of these days, I promise).

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to be in town so you can actually prepare a meal for your mom for Mothers Day. I already mentioned the salad that I made, but I also made a cake. Yum. I have a huuuuuge sweet tooth. I love cake, especially homemade cakes. You know that someone put in a time and effort to create something that you think and hope the recipient will like.

We have a few standards around here – nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you feel like branching out. And sometimes a recipe lands in your inbox that you just HAVE to make. That was the case this time around. I got an email from Sassy Radish with the recipe for an awesome cannoli cake. Cannoli. Cake. And Crepes. (I love the alliteration). Just repeat these words. You it has to be good. Add orange puree and you have a homerun.

And yet – I just had to tinker around with the recipe. No great modifications, but something to suit my tastes, and the ingredients I had handy. For example, I had a few overripe mangoes that were just too mushy to use in a salad. Ergo – mango puree mixed with the orange puree. I modified the crepe recipe to get thinner crepes. I used orange and lime zest. I used less sugar – most recipes can stand a reduction of sugar, and still taste just as great.

This was my first time to make my own ricotta. It turned out beautifully and I think I’ll try to use as much homemade ricotta as possible. I couldn’t find any cheesecloth for the life of me so I just used an organic baby diaper cloth made of muslin. With that fabric it took 6 hours til I got the right consistency of ricotta. I got about 2 1/2 cups of ricotta out of the recipe. The 2 cups of ricotta filling weren’t enough for me, so I stretched the filling by using that last 1/2 cup with lime zest, and approximately 1 1/2 powdered sugar. I also used less powdered sugar in that first batch of ricotta filling.

The crepes: The first crepe was thicker which was perfect for the bottom layer. But I didn’t like that thickness for the remaining crepes, plus I would only end up with a few layers. I stretched the crepe batter by adding a bit of milk and some water – probably 1/4 cup of milk, and 1/2 cup of water. I used less than a 1/4 scoop of batter – however much I needed to just coat the bottom of the pan, resulting in perfect thin crepes. They also didn’t cook as long, max 1 minute on the first side and about 20 seconds on the other side. I had an awesome non-stick pan where I barely needed any butter to cook the crepes.

And the orange puree. I had 3 mangoes which were going to into that puree. I had one orange – and no zest. My zest had been used up in the ricotta filling, and smarty pants that I am, I didn’t read the recipe closely enough and realize that I’d need two oranges. So, no orange zest, and no simple syrup. The mangoes were sweet enough to make any added sugar unnecessary. The resulting sauce is still ridiculously delicious – I had it for breakfast, for example on my porridge. Mmmm.

The finished cake. Don’t you want to try some, too?

Since I had so much orange-mango puree I used about 1 1/2 tbsp fruit puree between the layers. And since I wanted the finished cake to look extra pretty, I added a final layer of fruit puree on top. It almost looked like a fruit glaze. So good. I refrigerated the cake before serving it made it easier to cut lovely wedges that wouldn’t slide apart during serving. I served the cake with extra fruit puree and a slight dusting of powdered sugar. I let the photos speak for themselves:

A brief meditation over sal –

Sal – ad
Sal – sa
Sal-oon
Sal – on
Sal – t

Ok, salt still does apply, but as an ingredient. Yes, today’s post is about the first two “Sal”s. How do you decide which one to make – salad or salsa? What’s the defining line between the two? I’m sure Dictionary.com and those other websites will come up with all kinds of definitions that explain the difference. But when you’re throwing things together, when is it a salsa and does it become a salad? And lets ignore the other S word that I keep typing accidentally – Slaw. Another favorite of mine.

Yes, I know that the word salsa means sauce. Yes, you use a sauce to accompany something. It’s an accessory. But then there are the salsas (is that the correct plural?). A bunch of them include ‘color names,’ letting you know more about their ingredients, such as salsa roja, salsa verde, salsa negra and so on. I guess the kind of salsa I’m thinking about goes more in the direction of a salsa fresco, or also known as pico de gallo. (Btw, there are versions of salsa throughout many cultures, not just the Mexican version that most of us know).

Le salad

Salsa or salad, I was planning to make something fresh, to match this lovely warm weather. We had fresh mangos so I thought I’d go with a classic: mango black bean salsa. And I had feta, and I’d seen recipes for mango black bean feta salsa, so that was the plan. I also came across a quinoa black bean mango salad which sounded delicious. It included a red bell pepper which a) I couldn’t quite figure out how it would fit in there and b) I didn’t have anyway, so the point was moot. By now I’m all set on my menu.

But then. Then I realized I had a pomegranate that really needed to be used up. So hey, I could just toss in a pomegranate too – pomegranate and mango should go well together, right? Some quick googling showed more pomegranate mango body soaps and lotions rather than salads and slaws, but I’m always up for an experiment. So first I added the black beans, the pomegranate, and then I started prepping my mango. Darn. My mango was too soft. It would get all mushy when tossing.

Ridiculously awesome dressing

Ok, alternate plan. I’d seen a recipe for a zucchini, mint and pomegranate salad. This one used feta, which I did have, and zucchini which I didn’t have. Another salad recipe combined pomegranate and feta, plus spinach, red onion and walnuts. By now I was grumbling at myself for not planning out my menu more carefully. Then there was this quinoa herb & pomegranate salad. This one also used mint, so mint was the way to go.

Back to my black bean and pomegranate mixture. The pomegranate arils added crunch which contrasted nicely with the creaminess of the black beans. The color contrast was ok – the dark red and the dark brown weren’t that visually interesting. Time to add the mint, and then the feta. Now it looked better, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I still wanted to add something interesting. And then, then I found two pomegranate salad recipes that used (mandarin) oranges – a cauliflower pomegranate orange salad, and this really awesome arugula, fennel, apple, mandarin orange and pomegranate salad from Bon Appétit. My orange was meant to go into this Cannoli Crepe Cake (oooh, alliteration!), so that was a no go. Instead I used a small can of mandarin oranges.

And now I had the perfect salad – crunchy because of the pomegranate, creamy because of the black beans, slightly salty from the feta, minty because of the mint and orangey and slightly sweet from the mandarin oranges. The accompanying dressing totally rocked it. Btw, I make my dressing in a glass jar – I just have to shake it to create a great emulsion. Just make sure that your lid fits on tight. Plus it’s easy to save any extra dressing since your dressing is already in a jar.

Salad with awesome chicken (stay tuned!)

Now, this was a spur of the moment salad/salsa, so I used what ingredients had. If you want to cook your own black beans instead of resorting to the can, go for it! Same with the mandarin oranges – you can easily use fresh mandarins or oranges. Grapefruit or blood oranges would be great as well. I would use orange juice, fresh preferable as a substitute for the mandarin syrup. Make sure to use plenty of mint – it really really makes the salad. Also, I used a light canola oil (organic) since I didn’t have any good quality olive oil handy. Here’s the recipe for my pomegranate black bean feta mandarin mint salad:

Ingredients:

one pomegranate
15 oz low sodium black beans (one can)
150g feta
11 oz mandarin oranges in light syrup (one small can)
a handful of mint

Dressing:

2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of lemon juice
1 tsp of honey
1/4 cup mint
syrup from the mandarin can
pinch of salt

Preparation:

Remove the arils from the pomegranate and clean properly. Remove the black beans from the can and drain properly. Cut the mint into a chiffonade. Remove the mandarin oranges from the can and halve. Mix the black beans and the pomegranate. Crumble the feta into the salad. Add the mint, and add the mandarin oranges at the end so they don’t fall apart.

Cut your mint into a chiffonade. Mix the salad dressing ingredients except for the mandarin syrup. Taste and add the mandarin syrup in small batches so the dressing doesn’t end up too sweet. The syrup is a nice balance to the acidity in the dressing. I like my dressing on the tangy side. I did make a really big batch of dressing, so I scaled the ingredients up in order to have leftovers. Toss your salad with part of the dressing, and slowly add more dressing so your salad is evenly coated without becoming too soggy. Don’t forget that the mandarin oranges fall apart easily.

Melon salad

I love watermelon, but I’m not really a fan of honeydew or other melon sorts. But I had a honeydew melon on hand, and wanted to eat a salad. So guess what I found: a NYTimes recipe for a melon salad with a honeydew dressing. I once again improvised since I didn’t have any prosciutto or fennel, but I did have frisee lettuce. I used sliced almonds instead of hazelnuts. The dressing is basically pureed honeydew melon with oil and lime. I also added a bit of my pickled spring onions, and that was an excellent addition to the salad. This would also be an excellent fall salad. (Btw, do you want me to put up the bread recipe?)

Homemade bread, and melon salad. The perfect meal.

I had plenty of dressing left over, so I used it for the next days salad, where I added oranges, a yellow bell pepper and walnuts with the remainder of the frisee lettuce. Yum.

Today I’m linking up with Ginger Snap Crafts for her Wow Me Wednesday.

I’m not a fan of bell peppers, but….

I blogged the other day about this amazing summer salad I had. Meet this delicious Mediterranean summer salad – perfect for a warm summer day. It also keeps nicely til the next day (I’m sure it would keep longer, except that it’s so delicious that it might not last that long). I love sour things, but I never really thought about including pickled ingredients in my salad – I can’t imagine sour gurkens in my salad. But this, this was so delicious that I’m going to have to try out more recipes like that. Even my Dad, who isn’t a big fan of salad, said that the salad was yummy and that he’d like to eat it again soon. (And yes, I need to improve the lighting on my pictures).

summer salad

mediterranean summer salad on cress

We ate the salad with homemade flatbreads – another Smitten Kitchen recipe. So good! You might think that the mixture of honey, thyme and salt is weird, but it comes together nicely, with the finished object being more than it’s components. I’ll be making this one again, soon.

flatbreads

flatbreads with freshly crushed sea salt

Orange vanilla bean dressing

Sixoneseven put up a blog post a few weeks ago about this orange vanilla bean dressing. It sounded delicious and I was waiting on just the right occasion to try out the dressing. The other day we had tons of oranges left – you can make only so much fresh pressed orange juice – so I decided to make a napa cabbage, cucumber and orange salad with walnuts, and this dressing. The idea of using vanilla beans in a dressing sounded very interesting.

vanilla dressing

The salad was great, but the dressing didn’t quite meet my expectations. I’d use less oil next time, and a bit more honey, depending on how sour the oranges are. I also used a bit of my pickled spring onions, and that helped give the dressing a bit more body. I think the idea of the dressing is great, but it still needs more work. But with the basic idea is interesting.

I know what I ate last Friday

OMG. I think Friday’s dinner was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. So delicious. We ate every last bit. No leftovers.

I mentioned the other day that I love Smitten Kitchen – so much so that I’m subscribed to the email updates. The other day I stumbled upon a recipe for these delicious corn, buttermilk and chive popovers. I’ve been itching to try it out, and figured the popovers would work well with salad. I love salad, especially non-classic iceburg lettuce and a dressing salad.  (How boring). I like to mix up my salad with different textures and tastes – something smooth, something crunchy, and something tangy. I love fruit or fruit juice or lemon in my dressing.

popovers

I get hungry just looking at them!

My sister had told me about a delicious Cauliflower and Broccoli salad, with strawberries and a poppyseed dressing, so I figured I’d try out the salad myself. Well, no poppyseeds in the household means no poppyseed dressing. So I searched Smitten Kitchen, and found a yummy Broccoli slaw recipe, with a buttermilk dressing. I was very tempted to make the slaw, but I figure there’s another day to try out that recipe. Anyway, buttermilk dressing on the salad and some sliced almonds took care of the salad. Add hot popovers, with a pat of butter. Yum yum yum. Judge for yourself.

yum, salad

pre-application of dressing